To the Glory of God? Church Buildings and Faith Formation – Jonathan Massimi
by Jonathan Massimi
As a priest, I have the privilege and honour of accompanying people on their faith journey from the cradle to the grave. This accompaniment is mainly done through the sacraments.
This year I have had an influx of couples wanting to get married. Typically, these couples are not really connected to the faith community, but want to get married in our church because it’s big, beautiful and makes for great pictures. When I meet with couples the first thing I do is take them on a tour of the church. The reason I do this is not to figure out where the flowers will go, or where the photographers will stand; I take them in as a means of exposing them to the faith.
How does a church tour expose someone to the faith? Great question.
Our church, like many other mainline churches, is rich in symbolism, which speaks of God and our faith journey. For a priest it is a low tech pre-PowerPoint way to talk about life, faith and immerse people into God’s story.
I begin my tour by turning to the bride and saying, “you are not a princess” and then to the groom “you are not a prince” and I continue, “and this is not a castle…this is a church and all that you see here speaks of God.” I continue by explaining to the couple that when they get married in our church they become part of the symbolism, in that the story that is being told at the altar is not the story of the bride and groom or a fairy tale where prince and princess live happily ever after.
The narrative being enacted is the story of Christ and the Church, God and Creation. The church is the stage, the architecture, art and symbolism are the set. The script for the play is the liturgy. Those who participate in the ceremony are actors telling the story of God’s love for Creation and of Christ’s love for the Church.
The intention of this post was not to talk about marriage, but to speak of church architecture and Christian formation.
For me, I think that our buildings play an essential part in forming our faith and our understanding of God. When I sit in our church I am surrounded by God and I am able to worship God through my eyes. The stained glass windows tell the stories of Scripture. The font speaks of a new creation. The memorial plaques remind me of the “communion of saints”; that “great cloud of witnesses” who have lived a life in love and service to God.
As I sit in the pew surrounded by Scripture, carvings of Biblical figures, and the memory of believers who have gone before me, I am able to transcend “self” whereby my story is taken up into God’s Story.
Even when my mind wanders during a service, I look around and “the set” focuses me back on why I’m there and of the God who loves me and sent his Son for us. The reality of the latter quite often smacks me in the face via the glare from the brass cross behind the altar.
I’d like to go back to something I wrote above, “this is a church and all that you see here speaks of God.”
When you walk into your church, what language is being spoken? What message is being conveyed? What does an auditorium with big screens and padded seats, devoid of a cross tell us about God and our Christian faith?
Allow me to put it this way, if your church were a book, would it be a wonderfully crafted literary work or a trashy novel?
These are important questions to ask, especially when our building cornerstone reads “To the Glory of God”, while our architecture speaks nothing of Him. I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover.
(Originally posted at www.jeffkclarke.comwww.jeffkclarke.com)